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The Jewish Example of Gender Equality

Gender equality has reached a level of integration in American Jewish families not witnessed in other places, according to recent research. Using data from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey, Carmel U. Chiswick of the University of Illinois in Chicago explored the education, labor force participation and occupations of American Jewish men and women at the turn of the millennium. The paper, hosted on the website of the Association of Religion Data Archives, a public source for high-quality surveys, papers and articles, provides comparisons that include the prevalence of two-career couples in both endogamous and exogamous couples, as well as the types of careers chosen.

The survey and paper identified respondents as Jewish in three different ways. The “narrow” definition was limited to people who reported their religion to be Judaism alone; it did not include people who said they are “part” Jewish or Jewish and something else. The “broad” definition included those people who self-identified as Jewish ethnically, even if they did not claim the religion. The “broadest” definition were people classified by the survey as “Persons of Jewish Background who are not currently Jewish by either religion or ethnicity but who may once have been Jewish or who live in families where Judaism is practiced.”

Among interesting findings about Jewish occupations and gender demographics at the turn of this century, the number of Jewish women who have entered into the workforce has risen from about 35 percent in the late 1950s to more than 80 percent in 2000. That raises implications for women’s availability to provide volunteer labor in their worship communities and neighborhoods. Also, the vast majority of Jewish men and women are employed in high-level, professional occupations. While the percent of self-identified Jews who are engaged in high-level occupations dips for those who are married to a non-Jewish spouse (“broadest” definition), the rates are still high. However, when it comes to educational attainment, the men and women who fit the “narrow” definition are noticeably more likely to have completed 16 years of schooling and to have gone on for an advanced degree; that is especially true among the younger cohorts.

Overall, Jews in each age group have at least two more years of schooling than non-Jews, were more likely to have completed college, and were far more likely to have an advanced degree. As a consequence, the data shows that most American Jews earn salaries that permit a comfortable, upper-middle-class standard of living, and tend to have small families because women postpone marriage and pregnancy to complete their educations. In addition, because smaller family size produces a larger percentage of families with no male offspring, American Jews have tended to view the abilities of their female offspring as equal to that of their male. Gender equality has reached a level of integration in American Jewish families not witnessed in other places, leading to the American innovation, the Bat-Mizvah, which permits girls to prepare for and participate in the traditionally male-only Bar-Mitzvah. For additional insight on the place Jews have found in the social fabric of the United States, see our feature article, “Meet Your Neighbors: Interfaith FACTs.” To find more current and historic demographic material, see our article “Best Resources for Demographic Research.” You might also want to explore the various topics under our “Research” heading.

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